Side note to my blog...When we received the tsunami warning the other day we had been very concerned for our friends Glen and Sally aboard TDM. The last time we had heard from them they were in Western Samoa, which was near the epicenter of the earthquake. We had sent an email to them inquiring about their welfare. Their response to us was both upsetting and comforting, as they were in fact directly impacted yet remained unharmed. She detailed their personal experience on her blog. A link to the blog, "s/v The Dorothy Marie", is listed here on the left-hand side of my blog page, for anyone who would like to read about it. Also, sadly, we heard that a boat called "Sunshine", whom we had met in French Polynesia was in Pago Pago during the Tsunami and was thrown onto a reef and completely destroyed. We did not hear whether they were onboard at the time.
The day before our departure from Ouvea, Frank and I had a big discussion. We had already obtained our Australian multiple-entry visas and we had booked and paid for a marina berth in Bundaberg, Australia. We had changed our insurance, which must be done whenever there is a destination change. We had been making arrangements to sail down to meet some friends in Sydney, November 18th and to book all kinds of great stuff over the holidays and through New Year's in Sydney. We had lots of plans for Australia (affectionately known in these parts as "OZ"). But I was having misgivings. When Frank and I sailed out of New Zealand in May, it was with every intention of returning there for another season. Then after arriving in Fiji, various dynamics came into play precipitating a change of plans and so we committed to sail to OZ during the off-season instead. My heart still wanted to return to NZ yet I just did not want to endure that passage. That was the bottom line and this thought: If we carry on to OZ then we will more or less be committed to leave the South Pacific and continue toward Indonesia. I for one was not yet done with the South Pacific or with NZ. Frank wasn't either but he was less inclined to change everything AGAIN. Many of our Kiwi friends were expressing disappointment that we were not returning and were trying their best to gently, and sometimes not so gently nudge us back there. After speaking to John Martin on s/v Windflower, AKA the head guy for the ICA, AKA our Rally Leader, AKA Frank's golfing buddy, we decided that we would put our faith in him and God and return to NZ with the ICA Rally. We created a stir of mixed emotions and reactions from friends and loved ones over that decision. This time we stand firm. We cancelled the marina berth in Bundaberg. We cancelled our plans in Sydney L, and we changed our insurance once again. New Zealand, here we come! This decision also gave us an extra week or so in New Caledonia, so we can slow down a little bit. Yachts departing for OZ normally begin the exodus in mid-Oct. Boats departing for NZ start looking for weather windows the last week of Oct.
OK. That said, on Oct 3rd we sailed an overnighter down to Ils des Pins with Morning Light, Baraka, Free Spirit, Special Blend and Priscilla. It was a good trip. We arrived in Kuto Bay, which was nearly as beautiful as Mouli in Ouvea. This was a fun place, with resorts nearby that served fabulous food! We had access to a small grocery store and bakery that cranked out fresh baguettes daily. There were a couple of boutiques des gifts that sold fairly pricey items. Well – everything in New Caledonia is pricey. When you get right down to it if you want to come here you just can't let that stuff bother you. You will pay $25 for a hamburger, $100/day for a car rental (only $70 for 6 hours though), and dinner out is approx $100/pp without drinks. These are US dollar equivalents. Any place owned by the French is going to be expensive. So you suck it up and decide whether you want to spend a little money to get out and enjoy yourself, or be budget conscious. We bit the bullet a few times and ate out. Our favorite was to head over to Kanumera Bay for a cheeseburger (in paradise!) for lunch – it was very, very good! Kanumera Bay is an easy walk from Kuto along the beach during low tide and at daylight (close via the beach, quite far via the roadway). Their dinner menu featured some Ils des Pins specialties, such as escargots, local land snails, so we made a reservation for dinner with Jaime and Christine (ML) for the following night, including a car service to pick us up. The car arrived, took us to the restaurant where we dined in style and had an excellent dinner and then walked back to reception desk for our ride back to Kuto. There was no one there except workers who were piling into a van to go home. Finally a lady came out to the front desk, and when we asked about our transport back she just giggled and shrugged, as though we were either the funniest people she had ever encountered or she had no idea what we were asking. Frank tried to "mime" our needs, as she continued to giggle. Then he asked the workers if they would mind giving us a lift. They joined in the laughter, and continued to look at us as though we had asked something quite absurd! Finally, Frank said, "Fine, then we will just walk back". They all seemed to understand this and nodded as if in approval. Christine and I had worn fairly nice shoes and dresses, so we were not as amused as everyone else. We set off for the beach. It was very dark and the tide was on the rise, slamming into shore. Thankfully, Jaime carried a pocket flashlight. We all took off our shoes, I held my dress up and off we went, along the beach sidestepping branches and debris that was washing up to shore, when all of a sudden one of the branches began slithering! Oh my god! We nearly stepped on a 3 ft long sea snake! He was swimming and sliding along the edge of the beach with the incoming sea wash. He wasn't bothered by us in the least so we maneuvered around him and continued onward. We still had quite a long, dark walk ahead of us and although we did not encounter another snake, we decided one dinner there was enough. We did return for burgers at lunch though.
Tsunami Warning # 2! We awoke the next morning to Déjà vu! A general announcement was made over the VHF that an earthquake had occurred in the ocean off the shores of Vanuatu and that a Tsunami was imminent. Alas, Ils des Pins is surrounded by intricate reef systems and isn't quite as easily and as quickly evacuated! Yet, at 7:00 AM we were raising the anchor to rush out to sea. This time we had even less information and the Gendarmes were not letting us back in until they had news of the situation from Noumea Radio. I didn't' mention that we still had no internet – no link to the outside world other than SSB and VHF radios. Thank goodness, Frank's daughter and son send us email updates about what is going on "out there", albeit most of them have some reference to Denver sports teams. So, we danced and bobbed in a holding pattern until nearly 11:00 AM, when we were finally given the all clear to return to the anchorage. We still do not know what exactly happened with that quake; however, we know that it did not happen in New Caledonia.
Our time with our friends who are heading to OZ was coming to an end all too soon. Martha from "Special Blend" was having a birthday while in Kuto, so on our last night with ML still there we went in to the resort for dinner (the one in our bay) to celebrate with Martha. After another fantastic French meal, we were all walking back to the wharf to collect our dinghies, when Jaime decided to turn on his pocket light for us to see the planks. Oh my Lord! Right where Frank and Jim were about to step was the biggest sea snake any of us has ever seen! This thing had to be 3 inches in diameter and about 6 feet long. This time we were a little more intimidated. Sea snakes are deadly and we did not want to aggravate this one. We quietly and carefully stepped around him and ran for the dinghies, shining Jaime's light all around to make sure none had crawled up into one. This place was literally crawling with the buggers! By the way, these two weren't the only ones we saw, just the only ones we nearly stepped on. You encounter at least one a day around these parts. And they do like to come onto land.
The next morning, ML and Baraka departed to make their way up to Noumea (the capital city) in order to check out of the country and get ready for a weather window to leave for OZ. The weather wasn't good for sailing so we decided to wait a few days before following them. We stayed and really didn't do much of anything but polish stainless, play Rummikub and read books. It was nice to have some quiet time. Before we left, we joined our friends from Special Blend, Free Spirit & Priscilla for one last $25 cheeseburger with fries!
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